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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 May 2006, 15:55 GMT 16:55 UK
Peace protest raid was 'overkill'
Brian Haw and police
The surprise raid cost 7,200
Police have been accused of being too heavy handed after revealing 78 officers were used in a night raid to remove a peace protester's signs.

The operation to remove the bulk of Brian Haw's signs from Parliament Square cost 7,200, the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) heard.

MPA member Lord Tope said it was "huge overkill", fellow member Jenny Jones said it was a financial "disaster".

Police said Mr Haw had breached the conditions of his demonstration.

Seventy-eight police officers arriving in the middle of the night to clear placards and chase mice. I really do think that it was huge overkill
Lord Tope
Lib Dem MPA member

The long-term protester, who has been living in the square with a growing number of placards for five years, fell foul of a new law requiring all demonstrations within 1km of Parliament to have police permission.

He was granted permission to continue his protest on 9 May, but on the condition that his anti-war placards, which were spread over 40m, were reduced to just 3m.

In a surprise raid in the early hours of Tuesday morning, police moved in to enforce the conditions - putting many banners, pictures and placards in a large metal container.

Mr Haw, 56, from Worcestershire, responded by saying he would fast in protest.

Police remove placards
Police said there were allegations Mr Haw had breached legal conditions

MPA members were told the operation had cost 3,000 in overtime pay and 4,200 in transport, catering and road closure costs.

Liberal Democrat Lord Tope said some may find Mr Haw "irritating", but the right to protest and irritate MPs was a "pretty fundamental part of our democracy".

"I do think it brings the Met into a bit of disrepute - 78 police officers arriving in the middle of the night to clear placards and chase mice. I really do think that it was huge overkill."

Damien Hockney, of the One London Group, said it would look like police were suppressing dissent, while Conservative Richard Barnes said it seemed like resources were being diverted from London to "do Tony Blair's bidding".

Enforce the law

Met Commissioner Sir Ian Blair defended the operation, saying his force had "no discretion" when it came to those allegedly ignoring the law

"The fact is that Mr Haw has been given permission to continue his protest.

"Until such time as he obeys the law, we will have to enforce it."

Commander Chris Allison said 24 of the officers had been kept in reserve, while some were filming the operation as evidence. Only eight officers approached Mr Haw at first, he said.

Mr Haw will appear before magistrates on 30 May, charged with breaching his demonstration conditions.

Anti-war signs seized by police
23 May 06 |  London
Judges rule against peace vigil
08 May 06 |  London
Peace protester in legal battle
03 Apr 06 |  London

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